Officials hope showing walk-in wait times will help ease crowding at Winnipeg ERs

Winnipeggers will now be able to see wait times for walk-in clinics, along with hospital wait times, as part of an effort to encourage people with less-serious concerns to stay out of strained emergency departments and urgent care centres.

The real-time directory is now available on the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s website, Shared Health said in a Thursday news release.

That website previously showed wait times for the health authority’s connected care walk-in clinics, but will now include other clinics and resources to help people figure out what level of care they need, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s chief medical officer said.

“We also recognize that this initiative alone will not solve the longer wait times. But it will save you a lot of time if your care needs are less urgent,” Dr. Joss Reimer said during a virtual news conference Thursday, adding she hopes more clinics see the value in participating.

“Many clinics find it extremely useful to be able to display their wait time so that they have some control over the volumes that come into the clinic, that they can promote their clinic when things are quieter and that they can show that things are busy, and hopefully redirect people.”

Reimer said about 40 per cent of people showing up to emergency departments or urgent care centres may have been able to get the right help sooner if they went to a walk-in clinic.

At the Winnipeg Children’s Hospital’s emergency department, that number is roughly 50 per cent, according to the chief operating officer of Health Sciences Centre — but it’s gone down slightly in recent months amid a rise in respiratory viruses, said Dr. Shawn Young, who joined Reimer at the news conference.

The province is also trying to reduce wait times in hospitals by bolstering staffing levels through initiatives like a series of recent bonuses for nurses who work long-term, full-time or on weekends.

The new weekend premium, which started last week and makes nurses on those shifts eligible for an extra $8 an hour, could already be having an impact.

Young said there was an improvement in nurse staffing at HSC’s emergency department and at several other hospitals last weekend.

“So it has, anecdotally, had some impact. It will take some time for us to know exactly what that impact is going to be long term,” Young said.

Reimer added that two Winnipeg facilities were fully staffed last weekend for the first time “in quite a long time.”

Shorter waits at walk-ins: data

An analysis of hour-by-hour data from three years ago showed thousands of people who went to emergency departments or urgent care could have gotten help at walk-in clinics, where the average wait was much shorter, Reimer said.

In November 2019, roughly 21,000 people with less-urgent needs went to emergency departments or urgent care centres, where the median wait time was 2.4 hours. Almost half could have gotten care at walk-in clinics, where the wait time was 40 minutes, she said.

The new wait times list, part of a partnership with medical clinic directory Medimap, is one of several initiatives the health authority is taking to address ongoing challenges with patient flow that are causing long wait times, Shared Health’s release said.

Those steps will become even more important this winter, as the number of respiratory virus cases continues to rise, it said. 

The early start to the respiratory virus and influenza season for kids has already pushed the number of patients showing up to the Children’s Hospital emergency department to record levels this month.

Emergency visits up, median waits down

The number of people showing up to emergency and urgent care in Manitoba has surged to about 250 every week — double the rate seen last November, Shared Health said. The number of patients showing up with respiratory illnesses has seen a similar increase this month.

The number of daily visits to those departments was also up to an average of 783.5 in October, from 773.2 in September.

The median wait time for a patient to get from emergency or urgent care to an in-patient unit was also up to 22.48 hours last month, from 22.28 hours in September, Shared Health said. 

However, median wait times for Winnipeg’s four emergency departments and three urgent care centres decreased slightly to three hours in October, down by 4.8 minutes from September. 

Ninetieth percentile waits for last month — how long it takes 90 per cent of emergency room visitors to be seen after registering at the front desk — were also down to 8.2 hours, a drop of 13.2 minutes from September. 

The proportion of people who left the hospital without being seen also improved slightly. It was 16.3 per cent in October, down from 16.5 per cent in September, Shared Health said.